The carbon cops are about to hit the streets, so businesses need to be prepared.

A SQUAD of Julia Gillard and Bob Brown’s ‘carbon cops’ are gearing up to go out on the beat, monitoring businesses nationwide.

According to one source, 23 such ‘cops’ are already set to begin roaming the streets and doing audits of businesses.

Their first mission will be to target businesses that choose to link their price increases to a carbon tax.

In other words, if any business dares to up the price of goods or services because of the coming CO2 tax slug, they can expect a carbon cop to check whether the rise in price was a reaction to the Gillard-Brown CO2 tax.

Only time will tell if the squad’s numbers are boosted, but you can be confident they won’t fall below that 23.

Also not yet revealed is how many of the 23 will be based in Perth to monitor metropolitan and regional businesses in Western Australia.

The only certainty is they will be around to check on businesses that claim their price rises are due to the $23/tonne slug for CO2 emissions imposed by Canberra.

Let’s consider some nuts and bolts of this brave new world of CO2 taxation.

The carbon cops will be housed within the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission whose chairman, Rod Simms, has just released a 12-page booklet, ‘Carbon Price Claims – Guide for Business’.

This outlines what businesses can expect after July 1 2012, when the CO2 tax takes effect.

On page 1 it says: “You are not generally required to justify or explain why your prices have increased – however, if you chose to claim that price increases are due to a particular cause, you should have confidence in your claim.

“This includes where you chose to link your price increase to a carbon price.”

The guide goes on to urge that, when making any claims about the impact of the CO2 tax, businesses should ensure these are “truthful and accurate”, “do not mislead consumers”, “are based on reasonable grounds”, and can “be substantiated”.

Keep in mind that a large number of businesses already undertake costly annual CO2 emissions audits.

All this work comes on top of a CO2 emissions auditing requirement resulting from the Howard government’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act (2007).

Both these unnecessary burdens upon business exist because so many politicians embraced the worldwide campaign against an essential plant nutrient, CO2, that isn’t polluting anything. 

Also evident from the ACCC guide is that TV and radio advertising, catalogues, labels, websites, telephone, email and correspondence, contracts, even shop floor advertising and discussions can be monitored and used in legal actions by the carbon cops against business following investigations of price increases.

The guide even warns of possible action against any business that highlights the CO2 tax before it actually comes into force.

“You might also be thinking of making more general statements before July 1 2012 such as ‘Beat the Carbon Tax – Buy now’; ‘Our prices will be hit hard when the carbon price comes in’ or ‘Buy now before the carbon tax bites’,” the ACCC guide says.

“While such moves may be legitimate in many circumstances, you need to be careful that you do not overstate the savings to be made by purchasing before the introduction of a carbon price.”

Now, all this reminds me of my 1984 visit to Montreal during which I was stunned to discover that Quebec had ‘language cops’, aka ‘tongue troopers’.

Perhaps because my life has very much included use of a language other than English, most especially in my parental home, I’ve always been extremely sympathetic to language preservation and diversity.

But even that longstanding stance didn’t prepare me for what I encountered in Montreal.

French-speaking Quebec had what is called the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF).

In English that’s, The Quebec Board of the French Language, which worked out of the ministry of immigration and cultural communities; its duty was to combat ‘Anglicisms’, meaning English terminology.

Never mind that English has adopted hundreds, or is it thousands, of French words and phrases, from cul de sac to croissant, rendezvous to entrepreneur, and the like. 

This meant Quebec’s language cops could inspect all sorts of things, including especially business advertising signage.

Now, I don’t want to go into the pros and cons of ensuring the eternal pre-eminence of French in Quebec; I’ve heard both sides of that argument. What’s pertinent here is another issue.

The OQLF was created in 1961. In 1977, a Charter of French Language was drawn-up and two further agencies were created; Commission de toponymie (Commission of Toponymy) and the Conseil supérieur de la langue française (Superior Council of the French Language).

The first took to enforcing usage of place names and even parts of the human body, while the Conseil supérieur de la langue française was to advise the minister overseeing the Charter of the French language on any questions relative to the French language in Quebec.

What this suggests is that the compulsory auditing of companies’ CO2 emissions that’s now being followed-up by prices and advertising monitoring by carbon cops is only the beginning of a new layer of regulatory and policing of Australia’s wealth-generating business sectors.

We can thus expect that, as time passes, the already instituted auditing and policing of CO2 emissions and now the policing of pricing and advertising will be expanded to even more monitoring of business.

Never forget Prime Minister Gillard’s claim that she’s ‘Abbott proofed’ her legislation, meaning the tax can never be scrapped. It’s here forever.

Not highlighted, however, is the fact that both these newly established monitoring and policing beats have back-up prosecuting arms with business owners able to be charged, prosecuted, and punished.

Yes, penalties exist, which brings us to the question: what happens after these carbon cops initiate successful prosecutions?

The ‘Carbon Price Claims – Guide for Business’ fails to provide the answer.

However, page 11 carries a segment headline ‘Further Information’, which shows several telephone numbers and three web addresses.

One of the latter, The ACCC’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy, takes you to the ACCC’s home page, which is so cluttered you’ll have difficulty finding the penalty list.

But I eventually found it, and here’s what it says.

“Under the Australian Consumer Law the ACCC has a variety of powers that will be used to investigate the accuracy of claims about the impact of a carbon price.

“For instance, by issuing a substantiation notice the ACCC can require a business to provide information to support any claim it makes about the impact [of] a carbon price. 

“The ACCC may seek court-imposed penalties of up to $1.1 million for serious breaches. 

“It can also issue infringement notices if it considers a representation is false or misleading. 

“Infringement notice penalties are $1,320 for individuals, $66,000 for public companies and $6,600 for other companies.”

Tell your accountant/bookkeeper to be eternally vigilant, like Quebec’s businesses are.

Bon voyage in the Gillard-Brown brave new world of business.